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Reimagining Pastoral Education and Training: A Doctoral Thesis on Precluding Pastoral Burnout and Dropout through Recovery of Balance between the University Model and the Apprenticeship Model of Theological Higher Education

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posted on 2022-05-24, 20:39 authored by Michael A. MiltonMichael A. Milton


“Reimagining Pastoral Education and Training” is a professional doctoral project born out of a burden for pastor-parish challenges that lead to pastoral dropout. A basic prelude question assesses the perceived problem: “Is there really a declining corps of young pastors leaving the ministry, disrupting their families, and congregations, and forfeiting opportunities for good when communities need their services more than ever?” The research is unequivocal in its evidence- based conclusions: Pastors are leaving the ministry at an early point in their careers. This confirmation drives a follow-up. As one who has invested a career in both parish ministry and in theological higher education, the evidence of a veritable pandemic of aborted vocations evokes a visceral response, i.e., a deeply personal research question: “How can theological higher education adapt to respond to this crisis of vocation?” Chapter two examines the literature on the relationship of vocational crisis and theological education. Findings include the fact that the presenting issue of clergy burnout and dropout is endemic to diverse Christian communities, especially, in the West. Citing an abundance of corroborating research focused on clergy burnout and dropout in North America the author employs a mixed-method response to conclude that a gap exists in not only the literature but in the lives of ordinands. Pastors have often received a mono-modal education without the vocation parish-based training long practiced in the Church. The research reveals the possibility of an in-group bias among theological educators, a cognitive bias that has perpetuated a scholastic model of theological higher education since at least the nineteenth century. A response to the problem is posited: Reimagine—reconsider and refashion—a method of spiritual and vocational formation that can produce a biblically faithful, and vocationally sustainable pastoral ministry; an education and training model that can unite the university model and the vocational model for a “Pastoral Training Model.” Chapter three is a record of research into pedagogical methodologies in the Pastoral Epistles. Evidence of a Pauline commitment to multimodality calls for an evaluation of modalities in our day, especially technology. Thus, Chapter four examines theological and philosophical voices on technology and vocational formation. The research yields compelling data that answers the first chapter questions: a multimodal teaching and learning model that embraces a renewed appreciation for the seminary and the indispensable place of the local church (or other area of ministry) can be a positive contribution to pastoral education and training. Reimagining Pastoral Education and Training can lead us “back to the future” of a Pastoral Training Model.


Erskine Theological Seminary, D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership, Lily Foundation, Bell Foundation,